Resourceful Young Children

Resourceful Young Children
Learning Brief


Adopting the ‘broken village’ approach to improving teaching, learning and school development.

Category: Resourceful Young Children | Comprehensive ECD package | 14 January, 2014 - 16:00


Project context

Over 22 years ago, Penreach was established in one of the most culturally complex and politically unstable regions in South Africa with the mission to ‘improve teaching and learning in the Lowveld through the establishment of a significant outreach programme.’ From the outset our focus was on the teacher as a sustainable and strategic resource to improve teaching and learning.

Programme activities

The Penreach strategy targets teacher development through a pipeline of interventions starting at the ECD level and continuing right through to the Grade 12 level. We cater for some 2,500 teachers and directly impact approximately 1,000 learners.

Early on Penreach recognised that the academic programme at most schools was insufficient and needed fixing. Consequently we began offering Saturday teacher development workshops and learner tutorials that sought to improve content knowledge and pedagogy. In addition, a scaffold of supporting programmes was developed, including:

  • Offering Principal to Principal mentoring,
  • Encouraging school Heads of Department in their job,
  • Providing SMTs with management training,
  • Sending SGBs to attend relevant training courses,
  • Providing schools with quality water, IT infrastructure, and libraries.

We took a Whole School Development approach that was successful up to a point. Later on we realised the need for greater community support in educating our children.


Educating children in a “broken village”

The popular saying is that “it takes a village to raise a child.” But what if the village is broken? How do we raise and educate the child in a broken village? After many years of working with schools in the Lowveld to improve teaching and learning we recognised that community-level issues beyond our reach affect whole school development. These issues are symptoms of a broken village and include: high teen pregnancy rates, domestic violence and poverty, the social distance between school and community, parents who are not engaged with children’s needs, and parents who are ignorant of their children’s cognitive needs. Furthermore, FET teachers are often not from the community in which they teach and so are unfamiliar with the problems facing learners at home. Penreach acknowledged the need to gain the support of the community to fix ‘the broken village’, which directly impacts the learning of many children.

To help fix the ‘broken village’ Penreach has developed a three-­pronged parenting intervention with the support of the DGMT.

  1. We have added a parenting component to the Saturday teacher development workshop programme;
  2. We have started Teen Parenting and Girls Clubs (supported by the Roger Federer Foundation); and
  3. We are hosting open, community parenting meetings.

Penreach has also developed a “Parenting at ECD level” course, which is currently targeted at the more than 1,000 practitioners in our Saturday teacher development workshops and our ECD NQF Level 4 courses.  This course covers the following topics:

  • Provision of basic needs: nutrition, health, and security;
  • Emotional support;
  • Support in early learning; and
  • Support and involvement in the school.


Implementation challenges

Attesting to the desire to fix the ‘broken village,’ demand for these programmes has far exceeded expectations. Furthermore, it has unveiled some concerning community issues regarding the nutrition, parenting, and family life of children. For example, we have discovered that:

  • Parents are victims of fast foods marketing and the social status of traditional, more nutritious foods has declined in favour of less-nutritional fast foods.
  • Most parents are ignorant of cognitive milestones, the importance of play and toys, and the availability of educational materials.
  • Discipline is focused on the parents and not the child’s needs, and is centred on corporal punishment.
  • The disconnect between school and home means that there is no storytelling, reading, following up on homework, or visiting the school to find out how the child is progressing.


Conclusions and implications for others
We have found that stand­‐alone academic interventions, or even whole-school development initiatives cannot achieve their objectives in the context of a ‘broken village’. The support of government, private and local agencies working with the communities, and particularly parents, is needed to create safe school communities (or whole villages).

Other organizations similar to us may benefit from this knowledge by focusing on teachers as well as parents. More specifically, they need to encourage parents to see their children as future adults, not as objects. Finally, other programs must try to identify the broken aspects of a community that directly impact the teachers and learners in a school, and then create targeted strategies to help the school community overcome these challenges.


Boschrand, Mbombela, Farm No. 283, Portion 35 Mpumalanga

 (013) 758 9092

In Short

Penreach is not only helping rural teachers improve their teaching and learning approach, it is also engaging in community-driven whole school development. This means reaching INTO schools FROM the community through projects that target pregnant teens, parents who want to improve their ECD skills, or teachers who want to be better integrated in the communities where they work. Learn from this initiative on how to work in ‘broken villages’ to help raise and educate wonderful children.

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